Dignity Remaining Connected and Strategic during COVID times
This has been no ordinary time. Masks, social distancing and almost no contact with friends, family or coworkers have kept many folks apart. Yet Dignity Chapters, Communities and Caucuses across the US, have come together and remain connected in new and innovative ways.
In a series of five separate Zoom meetings, the Chapter, Community and Caucus Services committee learned how our Dignity constituents continue to create community during the pandemic. Zoom chatrooms and online gatherings for liturgies, meetings, book discussions, rosary and prayer groups are ways that we are linked and spiritually fed.
Interestingly, all Dignity chapters offering online services, (17 total) are reporting a higher participation at the online liturgies than in-person services. Most notable is that thirty-five of our thirty-seven-chapters, communities, and caucuses took part in the calls, resulting in a whopping 95 percent participation rate.
And we learned that some chapters are meeting socially in innovative ways: Haiku night, trivia nights, and online dinner parties continue helping us share life with each other. Emailing, texting, and telephoning members are still effective way to communicate and are used Dignity-wide.
During the second part of the call, leaders were asked how the four strategic priorities (articulated from our 2019 Chicago Conference) resonated with their constituents and which of these priorities are being put into action. The priorities and their answers are as follows:
Amplify the Prophetic Voice: The committee was most impressed by the number of chapters/caucuses expressing their commitment to the importance of social media and its various forms to communicate our message. Many are updating their current media platforms to amplify our voice and get our message out. A second area that came up often was becoming more actively involved in local situations. A few examples were protesting an archdiocesan statement on transgenders people and supporting teachers in Catholic schools being fired for coming out publicly. As one leader said "We need to be a constant and consistent presence across all media and become involved" We are energized and optimistic about how Dignity is actively working toward amplifying its voice and becoming a stronger, more inclusive and diverse organization.
New Ways of Reaching Audiences: Since Covid-19, Dignity communities and individuals have discovered diverse ways to communicate and support connections. Our large communities in NYC and DC were the first to offer online liturgies using Zoom and You Tube and invited everyone to join them. Others connect through the daily rosary, weekly reflections, meetings, games, and movie nights.
Caucuses meet through technology since those involved do not live near each other. They are using this pandemic time to move ahead on priorities. The Aging with Dignity caucus is working on a webinar dealing with LGBTQ+ aging, planning and resources that will be available to the whole Dignity community. The Trans caucus is broadening the list of frequently asked questions re: Trans issues to help in bridging knowledge gaps for those who wander our website. The Women of Dignity are Zoom meeting weekly and have sent an open invitation to the women of the YAC to join them, bringing to fulfillment a long-desired overlap between the groups. True to their wired nature, the Young Adult Caucus uses technology to work together for their frequent meetings and continue to build community through Zoom, YouTube and conference calls.
Across the US, Dignity members are involved in many online petitions addressing everything from Black Lives Matter to Trans support, to push back against tele-evangelists complicating faith and health practices for the Covid pandemic, to objections to using religious artifacts for political purposes. And when the bishop of Detroit locked the chapel door against our Dignity/Detroit chapter just as isolating was necessary to minimize the spread of Covid-19, did he think he was killing the community? The Spirit blows where She wills. And one of the places She is alive and well in Detroit. Our Michigan community was surrounded by calls, letters, emails, petitions, etc. from other Dignity members, Sisters, other LGBTQ+ movements, justice organizations with whom Dignity/Detroit has a long and supportive connection, friends and family of LGBTQ+ loved ones, and allies who increasingly recognize injustice when they see it. When intention is clear, God finds a way to fulfill our longings, even if it involves carrying a cross we never wanted. And the connections grow.
Nourish all LGBTQI and allies with educational materials: Chapters reported they wish to learn more about gender diversity and education. Many have worship and educational resources that are available for sharing. Some are reinventing themselves and liturgy may not be the focus, but education certainly is in the mix. Vice President Meli Barber is requesting any help in supplying materials as well as potential theologians to sit on a Theology committee. Please contact her at email@example.com.
Ensure future vitality and optimize human resources: The Committee heard a wide range of vibrant responses in looking at these strategic directions. Techniques employed for enhancing future vitality include: (1) seeking out disenfranchised persons in need of a faith community; (2) in lieu of regular liturgies, focusing on maintaining a visible presence in the local area; (3) feeling the infusion of spirit deriving from a meaningful retreat; (4) radically changing place and procedures by making a move to a smaller location; (5) maintaining a commitment of physical effort and financial support to current property; (6) raising difficult questions such as how to keep a chapter identity if there is affiliation with other groups, what will work effectively amidst new challenges, and how can the baton be passed on to a new tier of leaders?
To address optimizing human resources: (1) leaders have been very much in the public view, attending conferences and making positive first-time impressions; (2) a chapter has prominently gained the membership of a leading policy coordinator following her public resignation from the local Catholic Charities office; (3) a chapter has made an inroad with their local archdiocese thru particular access to a local deacon, and because of that, they are the rare Dignity chapter that meets on church property.
The Committee heard one comment that aptly summarizes our collective efforts: "We are grounded in a spirit of discernment."
To conclude, we are finding is the isolation that threatened with Covid-19 has energized Dignity groups to deepen existing relationships, and to extend and receive hospitality from some new directions that want to do justice. And we are using that technology old and new. The pandemic is an evil wind, but we recognize the good too as we continue to cross former boundaries to connect across state and international boundaries, races, cultures, and languages.